James McBride has soothed the Black community with his words and ever-present analytical persona for almost 3 decades. From writing to music and even the big screen, James McBride is what you call the full package. For my “seasoned” audience members, James McBride needs no introduction. For those who want to learn more about the human embodiment of Black entertainment, meet author James McBride.
James McBride was born on September 11, 1957 and was the eighth of twelve children. McBride was raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook housing projects by his Jewish mother, and received a degree in music composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, in Ohio. Upon graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University.
During McBride’s twenties, he was a staff writer with the Boston Globe, People magazine, and The Washington Post. During that time, his writing also appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. He quit his position as a feature writer at The Washington Post at the age of thirty in order to dedicate himself to a music career in New York, and composed songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Purafe, and Gary Burton.
James McBride has several accolades and awards. McBride has been awarded the 1993 American Music Festival’s Stephen Sondheim Award, the 1996 American Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award, and the 1996 ASCAP Richard Rodgers Horizons Award just to name a few. On September 22, 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the 2015 National Humanities Medal “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America”. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family.
In 1997, Riverhead published McBride’s bestselling memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. This story includes the reader in the author’s struggle to come to terms with his biracial identity, his Jewish’ mother’s history, and the general context of race relations in America, and has been translated into sixteen languages worldwide. The memoir spent over two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and now appears on high school and university course lists across America.
Check out a few of our favorite James McBride books below!
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother’s footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents’ loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.
The Good Lord Bird
Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1856–a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces–when legendary abolitionist John Brown arrives. When an argument between Brown and Henry’s master turns violent, Henry is forced to leave town–along with Brown, who believes Henry to be a girl and his good luck charm. Over the ensuing months, Henry, whom Brown nicknames Little Onion, conceals his true identity to stay alive. Eventually Brown sweeps him into the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859–one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.
Deacon King Kong
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.
The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters—caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York—overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.
Miracle at St. Anna
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